The Supreme Court sent a case back to a lower court on Monday, ordering them to reconsider a New York abortion mandate requiring religious organizations to cover abortion in their insurance plans, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
“We are gratified and grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious constitutional concerns over New York state’s heavy-handed abortion mandate on religious employers,” said Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger. He said he is confident that the order would find that “the unconstitutional regulatory action taken by New York state will ultimately be completely overturned as incompatible with our country’s First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”
In its order, the Supreme Court said that it would not take up the case, citing its ruling earlier this year in Fulton v. Philadelphia, in which it said the city violated the First Amendment when it ended its contract with a Catholic adoption agency that would not place children with same-sex couples. The Court has vacated the appeals court ruling letting the abortion coverage mandate stand, and wants the state Supreme Court to review the legality of the mandate.
The 2017 mandate denies the religious exemption for insurance coverage of “medically necessary” abortion to any religious organization that employs people who do not participate in the group’s religion. But abortion is never medically necessary and under the mandate, “medically necessary” could mean cases of rape or a diagnosis of the preborn child including Down syndrome. A coalition of religious groups including Anglican, Baptist, and Catholic churches, challenged the mandate, stating that covering abortion in their health care plans placed an undue burden on them.
“The New York mandate exempts some religious objectors and it also exempts certain types of coverage,” Eric Baxter, lead attorney for one of the religious groups explained. “This is definitely religious targeting.” He said the mandate is “clearly an effort to try to force everyone to provide coverage for abortion.”
In 2019, a state Supreme Court justice dismissed the coalition’s challenge to the abortion coverage mandate, and the coalition appealed. In 2020, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the state Supreme Court’s decision. Monday’s order to vacate the appellate court ruling and send the case back to the New York Supreme Court is the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent move to uphold the First Amendment rights of religious groups. In November 2020, the Supreme Court blocked restrictions on religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic imposed by then-New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D). And in April, the Court also struck down another pandemic-related restriction on religious groups in California. Court watchers argue that lower courts should take note of these rulings and follow the lead of the justices, said The Washington Free Beacon.
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